Rural life is truly bliss. Coming from Johannesburg more than 16 years ago to live here in the Middleveld* took enormous conviction and courage, but every time I walk out onto the balcony at treetop level, I can’t help but hear a song in my heart. Our 10-year old son, Damian probably had the best time enjoying these beautiful natural surroundings at the time, while Paul and I tried to figure out how to save an ailing business.
Damian used to run the almost four kilometres barefoot to school everyday. This path meandered along the open grassland on the neighbour’s farm, along the river and through the forest until it reached the swing bridge, then a short stretch to Louise’s house where he went to school. We had a two-way radio keeping us in contact with his whereabouts and safety. However, there was one spot near the bottom of the path at the swing bridge which had bad signal and we couldn’t always get hold of him when he was there.
I used to wait for Damian’s whistle, in rhythm with the jump in his step, when he entered the property through the bottom gate at lunchtime everyday. On this particular day, however, there was no little human coming up the path and no reply on the radio either, so we sent out the search party to track him down. This had happened before when they found him daydreaming against a huge Waterberry tree, ‘just thinking…’. But today was different. They met him running on his way home close to the swing bridge, where he swears there was a HUGE crocodile lying on the bank of the Crocodile River (no pun intended). They hurried back there, but found nothing on the spot Damian was pointing to.
Now I know Damian really knew what a crocodile looks like. His natural knowledge was remarkable and when he said there was a crocodile, I believed him. The rest of the valley folk didn’t though. They believed there were no crocs in the river and only a child with a very vivid imagination would be able to identify one lying basking in the sun.
A few years ago, long after Damian had gone, we started producing dehydrated meals in our kitchen and packaged these in individual portions. Although they were popular with campers, back packers, bachelors and lazy housewives, I also used them to assist beggars at traffic lights, car guards, or people at the landfill, handing them out randomly where I felt the need. I also had many discussions with our own staff and the food situation in the townships where they came from and we routinely sent packets along when they went on their days-off. One of our ladies who stayed across the river (close to Damian’s school) surprised me when I asked if there were any hungry people near her home that we should be sending food to. “Yes,” she answered, “those children next to us say they are sooooo tired of eating crocodile!” “What crocodile?!” I exclaimed. “The one the farmer XX shot a few weeks ago—YOHHH !!!—it was a very big one, that’s why they are all still eating from it that side of the river, but now they are tired,” she said with eyes as big as saucers and shaking her head.
Well, well! Then Damian wasn’t wrong after all. The big crocodile had been lurking around for many years. My heart is still sore about its life that was ended, and realising that humans can’t honour and find solutions for any life they have not personally chosen to support.
Shortly after the crocodile incident Damian and I started baking Crocodile Breads, shaping the bread dough into an oblong, filling it with all sorts of things and ideas we could randomly create. We then plaited the dough in strips over the content to look like a rough-backed crocodile. It was so much fun and so delicious that we also started making these when we had small events.
Damian left us in November 2010. I decided to turn the Crocodile Bread into a Memory Bread.
I was introduced to Memory Bread by Helena Nell, a journalist and lunch guest at Old Joe’s Kaia. She forwarded this interesting ritual from The Scarpetta Factor by Patricia Cornwell to me:
“My mother used to make it when I was a child, and it’s called that because when you have a piece, you’re supposed to remember something important. It can be from your childhood. It can be from any time or anywhere. So I thought we’d drink a toast and eat some bread and remember what we’ve been through and who we were, because it’s also who we are.”
So how does one make a Memory Bread?
Simply mix your favourite bread dough (or buy ready-mixed from the local bakery), roll it out into an oblong and spread all your ‘memories’ down the middle, then plait the sides over to enclose them…
“Memories are like what you find in the kitchen, she said, all these dribs and drabs in drawers and dark cupboards, bits and pieces that seem extraneous or even bad…”
So what do I put into Damian’s Memory Bread? Thick Lentil and Mushroom Soup … and welding rods… how could we ever forget…?
To see how it’s done watch here.
“I spent days trying to find the way to apologize
I spent nights awake, waiting for the mornings to meet you
And I’m still keeping your picture on my wall
I’m obsessed about how
How I can bring you back.”
*Middleveld: Schoemanskloof is situated halfway between the cold Highveld escarpment of Belfast and the excruciating heat of the Lowveld.